Friday, March 29, 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 64)

1. Tomorrow is my first anniversary as a Catholic!

2. I’m glad Lent’s over, because I’ve done a really poor job of doing what I set out to this season. Good thing this is a faith of forgiveness. Mess up, repent, try again, repeat. And there’s always next year.

3. Who scheduled new Doctor Who at the same time as Easter Vigil??? Bad BBC. The title is the episode is “The Bells of Saint John,” so it sounds Easter-y enough. (I’ve already planned midnight viewing of the re-broadcast while eating a Cadbury egg. The 21st century is a wonderful place sometimes.)

4. I remember being around 10-years-old when I asked my preacher why Good Friday was called Good. It seemed the day Jesus died should be something not-so-happy. He gave a satisfactory answer, and I know I’ve heard theological reasons, but I still think Good Friday should have a more appropriate, darker name. Crucifixion Friday, Day at the Skull, something. 

5. While I love Holy Week, I think it's too short. Everything happens so fast! I need a day for riding into Jerusalem, a day for the Last Supper, a day for the betrayal, a day for the arrest, a day for the trial/sentencing, a day for the Crucifixion, and a day for the Resurrection. The Last Supper, betrayal, arrest, and trail are always grouped. I know historically that would be inaccurate to spread them out, but I want to delve into each event.

6. I didn’t want to jump on the new pope bandwagon. I wasn’t going to adore the guy solely on the fact that he was our pope. But geez—It’s hard not to like Pope Francis. He’s still rocking the simple look, he’s washing feet at a juvenile prison, and he’s condemned the lack of action during the sex abuse scandal. He even made a personal phone call to his newspaper kiosk in Argentina to cancel his subscription (the guy on the other end wouldn’t believe it was really Pope Francis and said…well, some words you wouldn’t say to the pope). 

7. Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict met late last week. I would have loved to have been a fly with a universal translator on that wall. This beautiful picture of them comes from the Swiss Guard facebook page (which is totally worth following; all the pictures are great).

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Two Meanings of Marriage

Lately, my facebook feed has been inundated with red math. First, equal signs, then unequal signs, plus signs, even a division sign (I’m still not sure which side that came from), all interspersed with statuses about equality, the “right side of history,” “traditional marriage,” and the Bible. I had been distracted by Holy Week, so I didn’t know about the cases in front of the Supreme Court. Fortunately, hundreds of my facebook friends have decided that they are constitutional scholars, so I’m all caught up now.

Here’s the thing. Yes, the Catholic Church opposes marrying homosexuals. Its theology on the sacrament of marriage leads to that conclusion. But what my Church practices should have absolutely nothing to do with U.S. law. America is supposed to be all about freedom, liberty, and opportunity. LGBTs should have the exact same rights under the law as straight people. If a couple wants a non-religious wedding, or if a church (such as Unitarians) want to marry homosexuals, they should be able to, just as my Church should be able to refuse.

My problem is the intertwining of church and state. Marriage is a sacrament, a covenant, a religious institution. The state should have no say in who can or can’t get married. It may need to keep a record of who is married for various purposes, but the church (or any religion) should be the one who determines marriages. Getting the state involved in a religious matter is what has gotten us into this big mess to begin with. Taxes and medical rights and all the other benefits of marriage shouldn’t be excluded to marriage. But state-sanctioned marriage includes so much now, it would be near-impossible to free marriage of the state’s hold. And it would be cruel to deny anyone access to all the special rights the state grants married people.

Traditional marriage isn’t what people think it is. Some conservatives use “traditional marriage” and “biblical marriage” interchangeably. From the Old Testament, that means marriage is void of love; it’s more of a contract between families in which a woman is exchanged. Polygamy is ok, and concubines or sleeping with the wife’s servants is also permissible. Up through the 16th-century, marriage was strictly between two people. If a man and woman claimed that they exchanged marriage vows (even if there were no other witnesses), the Church accepted it as valid and recorded it as such. Marriage licenses only existed for special cases (such as nobility marrying someone a little too closely related). If we are going to return to “traditional” marriage, I want this to be it, where the couple makes the vows, the Church declares it valid, and the state says nothing.

Marriage licenses in America picked up steam in the early twentieth century as a way to prohibit whites from marrying minorities. So basically, the state took over for bigoted reasons. That’s not a tradition I want to continue. I take marriage seriously. That said, if I exchange vows in a Church ceremony and never get a state license, I won’t consider myself any less married. The state means nothing to a covenant between two people. If a man and a man or a woman and a woman or a man and two women want to make a covenant to one another, they should, as long as they take their vows seriously.

Marriage should be a religious rights issue. I want to free it of the limits of the state and give it back to the religions. But since that isn’t happening, marriage is also a civil rights issue. A country that values liberty and pursuit of happiness cannot impose theocracy and bigotry onto its citizens. Everyone deserves the same rights under the law. That’s why justice is blind. A country cannot tell its people who they can or can’t love.

In short, this is an ugly battle because it affects so many people's lives in a deeply personal way. And as it plays out on my newsfeed, please follow Wheaton's Law: don't be dick.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

I Hope God has a Wicked Humor

One of my Holy Week traditions that doesn’t involve church is watching the South Park episode “Fantastic Easter Special.” It’s shaky theology at best, sacrilege at worst, but it gets me in the Easter mood. South Park is known for being crass (and it is) and ridiculing just about every group there is (and it does). But when it aims at spoofing culture, religions, or politics, it usually has a pretty good message with it. 

The episode begins with the Marshes (who are Catholic) dying eggs together for Easter. Stan asks his dad, Randy, why they color eggs.
Randy: “Easter celebrates the day Jesus was resurrected after being crucified for our sins.”

Stan: “So we dip eggs in colored vinegar, and a giant rabbit hides them?”

Randy: “That’s right.”

Stan: “You don’t see the missteps in logic with that? Look, I’m just saying that somewhere between Jesus dying on the cross and a giant bunny hiding eggs, there seems to be a gap of information.”

“Look at the pope’s hat. It makes no sense.
Except that it was originally designed for a rabbit.”
Stan keeps asking questions and learns that his father is in the Hare Club for Men, a group that has preserved the true heir of St. Peter since the first century. The story spoofs The DaVinci Code more than the Church. It is revealed that at the Last Supper, Christ made a rabbit the first pope. The show sets up the logic, St. Peter = Peter Rabbit, therefore the pope = rabbit. The Easter Bunny is a symbol to point to this. (The egg symbolizes an odd-shaped piece of bread in front of St. Peter on DaVinci’s Last Supper.) The club protects the line of rabbit popes, but the ninjas kidnap them and take them to the Vatican.

Pope: “Trying to tell people that St. Peter was a rabbit is blasphemy. You must admit you are wrong or burn in hell.”

Randy: “It’s saying stupid things like that that made Jesus want to put a rabbit in charge.”

At the Easter Vigil at the Vatican, there is a “rabbit stew” for the poor, where the Hare Club members (and Snowball, the heir of St. Peter) are being sacrificed. Stan and Kyle plan to hand over the rabbit in exchange for Randy’s freedom. Stan makes a deal, but is double-crossed (yes, double cross pun) and arrested. The pope keeps arguing with Bill Donahue of the American Catholic League that ninjas, arrests, and double crosses aren’t very Christian. All in all, Pope Benedict comes out pretty good for a South Park Catholic spoof.

Then (reoccurring South Park character) Jesus shows up.

Stan: “Jesus, you did answer my prayer!”

Jesus: “Actually, I was answering the prayer of Nick Donovan.”

Nick Donovan: “Oh, that’s me! Neato!”

Jesus confirms that he intended a rabbit to be pope.

Bill Donahue: “Kill him.”

Pope: “What?!”

Bill Donahue: “He goes against the Church. He must die.”

Pope: “Alright, that does it, Bill. I’m pretty sure killing Jesus is not very Christian.”

Because of that remark, the pope is arrested with Jesus and the others. (I just realized that this 2007 episode has a news anchor say, “A strange turn of events here at the Vatican. Pope Benedictus has stepped down.” Spooky.)

Jesus and Kyle are in a jail cell together. Jesus asks Kyle to kill him so he can resurrect in St. Peter’s Square and save the day.

Kyle: “Dude, you don’t understand. I’m a Jew. I have a few hang-ups about killing Jesus.”

But he does it, and Jesus appears outside just in time to save Snowball and take out Bill Donahue with a ninja star. 

Snowball is seated as pope.

Cardinal 1: “Your Holiness, what should we tell the world about how to run their lives? …It isn’t saying anything.”

Cardinal 2: “Yes, just as Jesus intended it.”

This was really the only critique geared at the Church in this episode, that a man shouldn’t speak for all people in a faith or that a hierarchy shouldn’t tell people what to do. It’s a valid point. It’s fair to question authority. The writers of South Park have a different conclusion than me on the matter, but overall, I don’t mind someone raising that concern.

And as always, there is a valuable lesson to be learned.

Randy: “Stanley, I’m so proud of you. You’ve learned so very much this Easter.”

Stan: “Yeah, I’ve learned not to ask questions. Just dye the eggs and keep my mouth shut.”

I like South Park’s approach to religion. It rarely criticizes the theology and doesn’t belittle believers. It pokes fun at contradictions, specific leaders, or how religion can be easily abused. I saw the Broadway musical Book of Mormon a couple of years ago. Trey Parker and Matt Stone referred to it as their “love letter” to Mormonism, for while they criticize the some of the beliefs and the idea of sending teenagers on missions to dangerous countries, they also show Mormons to be genuinely nice people trying to make some good in the world and why faith is important to those who follow it.
Last year, when I watched this episode with Catholic eyes for the first time, I wondered if I’d find it offensive. But it was as funny as ever. Maybe it’s because this particular episode pokes fun at conspiracy theories more than the actual Church. But I also think that it’s not blasphemous to take a joke. It’s ok to laugh at one’s religion. Christianity believes some strange things. I can believe them to be true and still recognize how absurd they seem. I can laugh at the practices that appear odd outside of context and weird cultural traditions and the ways Christianity veers off from the mainstream. I don't think that makes me less reverent. My faith is still of utmost importance to me. But I also enjoyed a good-natured joke. I just hope God shares my wicked sense of humor.